[3] Atmosphere

I have a tendency to develop fixed habits rather quickly. For example, when I use some restaurant for the first time and happen to choose a dish that I really like, then there is a high probability that I will visit the same place and order precisely the same dish over and over again in the future.

This (unconscious) strategy has certainly some advantageous effects. First, it reduces the mental effort and pain connected with decision making (Did you notice that many women, more often than men, tend to take an enormous amount of time for studying menu cards ? And often, immediately after having ordered, they already come to regret their decision because they see this super-delicious looking plate being served at the neighboring table :-).

Also, once-and-for-all decisions guaranty a certain level of satisfaction, at least for a limited period. Unfortunately, however, the world is due to constant transformation: With the time, the general quality of the restaurant's food may get worse, due to economic pressure. Also, our own taste preferences will gradually change. And quite generally, our human mind is evaluating things on a relative, not on an absolute basis. What was a great new source of happiness yesterday becomes the standard of tomorrow. What makes us happy is positive CHANGE.

So, on the one hand, habits are a wonderful thing. What makes up our personality is, after all, a certain collection of regular behavioral patterns, ways of thinking, ways of talking and acting - habits. But those habits have a finite natural life time. Some of them may last for all our life, others feel great for only a few days and then quickly loose fascination (Know this nice picture of life as a long rope made of many short threads ?). Thanks to this gradual change of our habits, life can be experienced as fresh again and again.

And that brings me to the point of this article: Just as with all our habits, we also need a change of atmosphere from time to time. We tend to choose the same environment for regular activities, such as our daily work. And we might forget to re-evaluate if this environment is still as conductive to our activity as it was in the beginning.

Atmosphere is much more important than we might realize. For example, I re-read some of my favorite books after many years. It can then happen, in the middle of a certain passage, that I remember precisely the environment I was in at the time of my last reading: Often a rather unremarkable place and situation, like waiting for somebody in a car on a parking lot. But still, my mind has somehow made a firm connection between the story in the book and this particular atmosphere.

As another example, I realized that I play piano in a quite different way when the piano faces a window with a nice view. You can also try an experiment and listen to a slow, sad Jazz ballad once in a sunny room and once at night. The song may sound nice both times, in a certain way, but the emotions evoked in your mind will be very different.

Only a small part of the activity in our brain comes to the surface of consciousness. And even if we are consciously focused on some kind of problem solving or creative activity, the atmosphere of our surroundings is entering our brain through our sense organs and does have some effect, subtle as it may be.

Always choosing the same surroundings for our activities can lead to a lack of external stimulus and thereby make us less creative. We may believe that our creative ideas are coming "from inside ourselves". In reality, we are just picking up things from our environment, constantly. These tiny inputs leave some subtle traces in our brains and later they re-surface in form or another.

Thus, my recommendation is to change working environment from time to time. Of course, the equipment required for the work might not be so easy to transport - just think of moving around a piano ! But, in modern life, most gadgets like computers and phones have become lightweight and mobile. And sometimes it may be a good idea to come back to a simple paper and pencil.

Try reading and working in another room than normally, in the garden, in a park, in coffee shop ! It is no coincidence that so many writers used coffee shops for enhancing their creativity. Alternatively, you might change the atmosphere of your standard working place. Have the aroma of a nice hot drink in your nose to change your mind. Enjoy the sight of a delicious cup of green tea on your office desk. Optimize the light conditions: It makes such a huge psychological difference what kind of illumination is being used for each specific purpose. Whenever appropriate, use a suitable BGM for your activity (It is really a kind of art to know which type of music fits to which activity. Often, silience is the best choice. But I also keep a set of selected songs which serve as proven mood-changers for the not-so-good days). Or simply think of buying a new paper block or pencil. Remember how nice is feels to write with a high quality pen or pencil on a high quality paper....

I like to think of it that way: Our daily environment is an extension of our personality to the outside world. And just as we try to cultivate our mind, we should also cultivate our physical surroundings.